The Violent Seduction of Thomas Paine by Rocket Kirchner

Thomas Paine's Common Sense and a tomato weiner.

Image by Sam Craig via Flickr

by Rocket Kirchner
Writer, Dandelion Salad
Rocket Kirchner (blog)
Rocket Kirchner (youtube channel)
August 25, 2016

I was recently rereading Thomas Paine’s Common Sense the other day, and it was making a great deal of common sense. Yes indeed it really was making a great deal of common sense until the very end where he addresses specifically his fellow Quakers. He is very diplomatic in his wording that seeks to assure his reader that he never dishonors religion in any way. However, by the time he was finished it hit me that he was attempting to seduce in a very sly and subtle manner his fellow Quakers to the unthinkable: Violent revolution.

It is one thing to choose the musket over peace, it is quite another to seek to entice others to do the same. Ever since the founding of the Quakers in the mid 17th century, they endured every possible persecution against them and they stayed true to their non-violence. This non-violent position was iron clad. They were indeed a rare breed of Christians along with the Anabaptists, Mennonites and the Amish that constituted the Rustic Reformation as opposed to the oppression of the Royal Reformation.

In 1763 The Paxton Riots challenged Quaker domination in America. This lead to a crack in the door that opened just enough to discuss the possibility of armed resistance. Howard Zinn in his article on Dandelion Salad, “The Untold Truths About the American Revolution” makes it clear that a precedent was already set with the non-violence of the Founding Farmers that proved that there was no need for a violent revolution. Zinn says, “The farmers in Western Massachusetts had driven out the British Government without firing a single shot.”

So where is Paine in all of this? To understand Paine in context in regarding to his seduction of certain Quakers to pick up arms one must get past the smokescreen of Royalists vs Colonists. Also, one must get past Augustine’s Just War argument. Quakers were not Catholics. In other words, this debate in Quaker context was brand new. What emerged from this was Quakers who chose the musket like Paine. They were called The Free Quakers.

But herein lies the rub: Quaker writers like Nathaniel Green mused on the tension between the musket and non-musket duality. Fine. Open debates are healthy. On the other hand, Thomas Paine was an evangelist for violence. Thomas Paine was a violent seducer. He was a fanatic. He was a zealot. And his influence at the time was more than can be understood now.

So what does this have to do with today? Everything. George Mason refused to sign the Constitution because of slavery, and is unknown today. George Hay was for unconditional freedom of speech and critical of the Jefferson Administration’s abuse of the First Amendment, and he is unknown today. Thomas Paine is known and celebrated for his fomenting violent revolution and is celebrated today. History rewards the villains and ignores the heroes. Now that is not common sense.

from the archives:

Howard Zinn: Myths of the Good Wars (Three Holy Wars) (must-see)

Untold Truths About the American Revolution by Howard Zinn (2009)

David Swanson and John Dear on Catholic Church Rejecting “Just War” Theory

Chris Hedges: The Legacy of Father Daniel Berrigan

Everyone Has to Practice Nonviolence. Now. by Rev. John Dear

The Man From The North: How to Fight a Tyrant by Rivera Sun

Kathy Kelly: The Power of Peace

see also:

William Penn, America’s First Great Champion for Liberty and Peace


11 thoughts on “The Violent Seduction of Thomas Paine by Rocket Kirchner

  1. Paine is celebrated and remembered in our time (by some) after over a century of being dismissed, ignored and lied about by commentators and even historians. True, he was no pacifist, but the idea that he regularly advocated violence doesn’t square with his writings, or with the life he lived. He risked his life for others and for his principles countless times.

    As for “losing the argument” about the French Revolution to Edmund Burke, I don’t think so. Burke was not about anti-violence. In fact he, like Paine, supported the American Revolution. Burke was about defending privilege, specifically the monarchy and the aristocracy. Paine had no use for such privilege. And while the American far-right has tried to recast Paine as a kind of Tea Party jingoist, the bulk of his writing is in fact preoccupied with the notion of equality — an absolutely heretical idea in his day.

    Paine almost singlehandedly gave the word “democracy” it’s modern and positive meaning. In the 18th century, the word generally meant anarchy to educated folk — John Adams used it in this sense. Today we live in a world where democracy is taken for granted as something to celebrate and aspire to. Likewise liberty and equality. It was not always so. If we were living in Edmund Burke’s world rather than Thomas Paine’s, it would not be so.

    • Cm – Burke and Paine did differ on the property issue. But Burke was right about what he saw coming after the French revolution . it was pure terror. guillotine madness . Death en regalia.

      My argument with Paine is not a typical one . Though i myself am a Christian pacifist i can see why a man would out of conscience choose the musket because of the atrocities he sees all around him .

      my whole problem with Paine is his seduction of peaceful Quakers . To quote Jesus ” If anyone causes these little ones to stumble , let him have a millstone around his neck and be thrown in to the bottom of the sea”. Shame on Thomas Paine .

  2. Yes, violence goes down in history. Another example is the Worcester 1774 Revolution when 4,000 colonists closed the British courts in Massachusetts without a shot being fired. This event before Lexington and Concord should have been marked as the start of the Revolution, but since no one was physically harmed it is all but forgotten.

    • Susan – yep . this I see as a real problem because of what is taught in our schools . Also a problem because of the glorication of violence when practical stubborn non violence really works .

      that is why we need guys like Zinn to really teach us our real history .

  3. Paine was a revolutionary. Not only the American revolution but the French revolution as well, where he was imprisoned and threatened with the guillotine. Revolutions at the time were violent, equality paid for with the price of blood. That was the case with John Brown as well. His courage in giving his life for the freedom and equality of slaves–and he was not racist as most of the religious abolitionists were– galvanized the north and scared the south into rebellion. And rebellion and revolution are not conducted without at least the threat of violence. John Brown tried to minimize it–as a highly religious and moral man– but history is so often too heavy a burden for a single man.

  4. Violence is not always endorsed by authorized history. John Brown had a plan to free the slaves that was financed and supported by the religious abolitionists of the time, as well as others. He captured Harpers Ferry and the guns there at the armory, but could not get away to the mountains to begin his freedom raids. He was killed by the government, as was Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

    In LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME, James Loewin states that from about 1890 to 1970, American texts characterized John Brown as insane. There is no truth whatever in what American schools were routinely teaching children, although suggestions were made at the time that he plead insanity to save his life, a ruse he scornfully rejected.

    What he was trying to do was to stop the civil war, which killed six hundred thousand persons, but on the last day of his life, in the note he handed his jailer, he saw that slavery would only be abolished by war.

    He was one of America’s great heroes, but also covered up in the history books.

    • Folktruther- Thanks you for that comment and info. I never saw John Brown as insane . I think that X got King’s vision late in life. That vision being the equality of all . King, Mandela, and Gandhi and the Dali Lama and for that matter the Danish non violent resistance to Hitler have all been effective .

      What bothers me about Paine is that he was raised in a Quaker home and knew better. On that count as i said he chose the musket as a matter of conscience . My problem with Paine is him not personally choosing the musket but rather that he seduced fine Quakers who had a perfect track record in Christian non violence to capitulate and pick up the musket.

      This is very disturbing to me . George Fox and William Penn and so many other Quakers – the ones that were really persecuted for their faith never gave up and never hurt a fly. Nixon was raised a Quaker too. Enough said .

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